|Danny Scheie & Tracy Hazas|
Sometimes, no matter the play, seeing one particular actor’s performance is well worth the price of the ticket and the effort of the outing. And while there is much to like in the total cast and production of Aurora Theatre Company’s The Monster-Builder, the absolutely wicked architect scripted by Amy Freed and embodied to the hilt by Bay Area veteran actor Danny Scheie is the key reason to grab one of the intimate theatre’s seats in this now-extended run.
It only takes a few minutes into the play to realize Amy Freed has a passionate bone to pick with modern designers and builders of ostentatious buildings that do not fit into their surrounding environments. Young architects and married couple, Rita and Dieter, are being shown the stark, marbled interior of a glass-walled home sans any sign of furniture (part of Tom Buderwitz’s incredibly powerful set design), set on a wooded Puget Sound island in full view of a nearby fishing camp and meth lab. Famed architect Gregor, accompanied by his latest, high-fashion doll, Tamsin (former college roommate of Rita), struts about waxing on and on how magnificent his work is while listening with a mixture of sarcasm and feigned interest about a project his guests are about to land, a restoration of an 1890s boathouse in a local, urban park. In defense of their new firm’s intentions to reclaim for the world the sense of community in creating more “commons” spaces, Rita claims, “People need to be defended against architects. ” At the same time, she is clearly more than a bit intrigued and flattered by Gregor’s increasing interest in her (unlike her husband and partner who mostly scowls at Gregor while making snippy side remarks). When the two discover the next day that Gregor has used his political influence to win their sure-fire restoration deal, Dieter is enraged while Rita is drawn into the project by the spidery tentacles of the syrupy-sweet promises of the flattering Gregor – setting the scene for an epic battle of wits, words, power-plays, and other-worldly weapons.
Danny Scheie’s Gregor at first just appears to be a host with monumental-sized self-centeredness, flowing with affected speech that relies way too much on elongated, guttural-sounding “Aaahhhs” and “Ummmms” and overly emphasized final “t’s” and “k’s.” With voice trailing into oblivion at the ends of phrases and obligatory flippant hand and head tosses, Gregor moves quickly from victim to victim, closing within inches of the targeted face while continuing to talk non-stop about how great he is and how much he knows. This is a man very proud of his maze-laden design for an Alzheimer residential center and of his new project, the Abu Dhabi Tower of Justice and Interrogation. In a frenzied, late-night design session, furiously-paces and goes through wild-eyed manipulations of the scantily clothed Tamsin’s long-limbed body (all in view of the nearby fishermen, of course), to arrive at a concept of thousands of people coming and going “out the ass of a big building.” As the play progresses, Gregor becomes more and more villainous, a Frankenstein without a Hyde to retreat to. By the Second Act, Danny Scheie calls on every known film and literature devil from Simon Legree to Hannibal Lector to underline Ms. Freed’s true feelings about the modern architects of twisted towers in glass and steel. Through it all, every audience eye is locked on an inspired performance that drips with sleaze.
|Thomas Gorrebeeck, Danny Scheie, Tracy Hazas & Sierra Jolene|
Supporting Mr. Scheie is a solid, stars-in-their-own right cast. Sierra Jolene is stunning in beauty, style, and substance as Tamsin, the Glamour-magazine-looking girlfriend of Gregor whose sliding-scale vocals, batting eyelashes, and just-too-cute laughter hide the courage, determination, and intelligence she will later show to seek well-deserved revenge. As Deiter, Thomas Gorrebeeck alternates between pouty sullenness and bombastic aggression as he watches the goings-on of the despised Gregor and the magnetism used to attract his wife, Rita. Later, he will give with full fury and flame a spotlighted, surreal lecture on his surprising discoveries about the master-builder. As Rita, Tracy Hazas transforms brilliantly from bouncy guest with skeptical but googly eyes for host Gregor to his seriously pandering partner, showing up at 6 a.m. on a Sunday morning at Gregor’s private office, dressed-for-the-nines and ready to be seduced by his brilliance and maybe by his older, but still sexy and always-in-black, taut body.
Rod Gnapp and Nancy Carlin take on the drop-in, mostly insignificant parts of a nouveau riche, married couple, Andy and Pam, and milk them for all they are worth. Nancy Carlin especially at times is larger than life as a potential client of Dieter and Rita who is looking to re-do a chateau “so that it will feel like a second home instead of a third or fourth” and who loves in full flamboyance of high airs all their ideas -- as long as she has suggested them first. They and the entire cast are directed by Art Manke to play tongue-in-cheek to the point at times of drawing blood this host of bizarre characters whom together show the excesses and absurdities of the rich and their obsession with building monuments to themselves. Kent Dorsey shows off the night and day of Tom Buderwitz’s sets with excellent lighting while Rodolfo Ortega’s sound design runs the range from soft sea gulls and lapping waves to soaring opera to Phantom of the Opera organ recital. Callie Floor puts in the final touches with absolutely knock-'em-dead costumes.
The first half of Amy Freed’s script is satire at its finest, with just the right amount of hilarity, exaggeration, and surprise twists and turns to make it totally intriguing and fascinating to watch. Act Two veers dramatically to farcical sci-fi, strangely akin at times to the second act of Rocky Horror Show, and goes at times over the edge in its demonization of Gregor and with its wild turns in the story line. In the end, the play becomes a 1950s, B-grade monster movie. All is acted in outstanding fashion and produced flawlessly by the Aurora team, but it is the script that begins to try to patience as Ms. Freed grinds in ad absurdum her points about modern monster-builders.
Rating: 4 E’s
The Monster-Builder continues at the Aurora Theatre through its extended run until December 20, 2015 at 2018 Addison Street, Berkeley. Tickets are available online at https://auroratheatre.org/ or by calling the box office at 510-843-4822.